Rifle-action pistols provide a fun and unusual option for shooting popular military and self-defense rifle calibers in a compact and handy platform. As tactical rifles, also labeled "modern sporting rifles" by the NSSF, continue to grow in popularity, more riflemakers are providing handgun configurations of their shooting platform. It's not hard to find pistols based on the AR-15 and you can even find trimmed-down AK-47s if you check around. If you are looking for a pistol driven by a piston instead of gas impingement, and you want to be able to easily hit what you’re aiming at, then Robinson Armament Company has what you're looking for.
Pistol Features Alex J. Robinson, founder of Robinson Arms, originally developed the XCR-L line of modular rifles to compete for a U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) SOF Combat Assault Rifle contract. Rather than try to straddle the divide between the AK-47's reliability and the AR-15's accuracy, his XCR-L design embraces the best of both systems with some interesting features all his own. The AK influences are found in the gas-operated piston-driven action, the three-lug rotating bolt, heavy-duty extractor and fixed ejector. The AR-inspired aspects of the system can be seen in the design of the lower receiver, the grip and the controls like the magazine release and manual safety.
The upper assembly is milled from a single billet of aircraft-grade aluminum. The full-length 1913 Picatinny sight rail and the three short accessory rails are milled directly into the receiver to eliminate sight shifting caused by screw-mounted rails. The primary innovation of the XCR-L pistol is its modular design. The 7.5-inch chrome-lined barrel is held in place by a hex screw located in front of the magazine well. Because of the way the bolt locks into the barrel extension, only a simple barrel and bolt exchange are required to change the caliber from, in the case of this pistol, 7.62x39 mm Soviet to 5.56 Nato/.223 Rem., 6.8 mm Rem. SPC, 5.45x39 or .300 BLK.
Shooters may notice the lack of a takedown pin in the lower receiver. In its place, a wedge-shaped knob located on the upper is pressed forward to unlock the upper from the lower. With the upper hinge open, just pull the recoil assembly and bolt from the receiver to allow quick access to the barrel for cleaning. The controls of the XCR-L pistol are well placed and intuitive to operate, and the manual safely is ambidextrous. The AR-style magazine release has been adapted to include a left-side lever to make it ambidextrous as well. The non-reciprocating charging handle is located on the left side of the receiver instead of the top (AR-15) or right side (AK-47). The bolt release is located between the trigger guard and the magazine well where it can be activated by the tip of the trigger finger from either the left or right side of the pistol. The short, comfortable trigger stroke gauged at 5 pounds, 8 ounces.
Trigger Time The XCR-L is an enjoyable gun to run on the range. The left side location of the charging handle and the trigger-finger actuated bolt release are especially nice. As should be expected when firing rifle cartridges from a pistol-length barrel, the muzzle flash is bright and the report is loud. This results in quite the light show for other shooters on the range. However, thanks to the pistol's design and Quick Adjust Gas Valve, the felt recoil is kept to a comfortably moderate level.
The gas valve is located above the barrel ahead of the front sight. With the gun fully unloaded and pointed in safe direction, the operator can press and hold a small switch in order to rotate the valve to increase or restrict the gas flow to the piston without the need for tools or disassembly. When the range test began, the XCR-L was fired with practice-grade imported ball ammunition, which failed to eject on every third or fourth round. A quick twist of the valve by one notch to increase the gas flow completely eliminated the malfunction while keeping the pistol's recoil manageable. With hotter loads, one click back to the original setting reduced the recoil without causing any failures.
It seems, from the tests I've conducted, that rifle-action pistols firing rifle cartridges are often capable of better accuracy than standard handguns. A pistol-caliber handgun demonstrates solid defensive accuracy if it produces an average of 3-inch groups at 25 yards with a few different loads. The rifle-caliber pistols, the good ones anyway, can usually do better than that. From a benchrest, using the iron sights provided, the XCR-L was checked for accuracy by firing five-shot groups into targets set at 25 yards. The test ammunition used included Winchester Super X 123-grain jacketed soft points, Federal 123-grain jacketed soft points and DoubleTap Rifle Defense 123-grain polymer points.
The results of this particular test were unusual not only because of the tight groups, but also for the consistency of their size. Usually a clear 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winner for accuracy emerges. In this case, all three loads produced at least one 1.25-inch group and none of the loads produced a group larger than 2 inches. As a result, all three brands of ammunition produced five-group averages right in the 1.75-inch range. One thing’s for sure, this pistol is well tuned for 123-grain bullets.
Like most rifle-action pistols, the XCR-L benefits from the attachment of a single-point sling for use during off-hand shooting. A port is milled into the butt cap on the receiver to accept a quick-detach sling swivel. With the swivel directly behind and below the sighting system it's easy to keep the sights on target while creating a push-pull tension against the sling. The result is a level of gun stability very close to that produced when using a shoulder stock. Remember, just because you can swap out the butt cap of an XCR-L pistol for a shoulder stock does not mean you should. The addition of a shoulder stock to a pistol that does not have an NFA registration in place will land you in hot water with Uncle Sam. Stick to the single-point sling and all will remain legal.
Final Thoughts Robinson Arms has stepped up to the plate with a carefully thought out modular shooting system. The XCR-L controls are straight forward to operate and few modern semi-automatic rifles are as simple to field strip as this one. I've had the opportunity to run the XCR-L in the pistol and rifle configurations and both have proven to be accurate. If you are in the market for a unique, accurate, caliber convertible piston-driven pistol, then the XCR system has what you’re looking for.